Design apps to die for

Design apps to die for

We're getting a little fussier about the way our stuff looks. My students and I have come to the realization that this read/write web thing makes us all not only writers, but designers as well.

So, I've been collecting a full range of tools on our New Tools Guide, and I thought I share a few tools that are fast becoming our desert island apps for the design of presentations, digital stories, wikis, websites, and whatever else we publish or broadcast.

Picnik: Confession, I have PhotoShop Elements, but I love the ease of this free Swiss army knife image editor. It allows me to crop, resize, sharpen, and fix my photos for red eye. AND it offers a fabulous array of frames, stickers, effects, and text options. And did I mention that it is also easy? Over the past years, I've been so impressed with this free tool that I just had to invest the $24.95 for its premium options. Picnik is available as a browser extension and if you love using Flickr Blue Mountains for finding copyright-friendly images, Picnik appears as an option on your selected result.

BeFunky similarly offers nifty opportunities to not only edit images, but to add a wide variety of regular photographic and artsy effects, to add graphics, and text. I am tempted buy the premium features here too!

FotoFlexer is an excellent alternative basic photo editor.

Aviary: I don't think a single day goes by that I don't reach for the Aviary tool on my browser bar for a quick image grab. But this flock of birdy tools does much more than simply grab. The free web-based suite includes:

  • Talon: the screen capturer with Firefox extension (my image grabber)
  • Phoenix: the layer-based image editor
  • Peacock: the visual laboratory for creating amazing effects and visualizations
  • Toucan: the color pallette coordinator
  • Roc: the music creator
  • Myna: the audio editor
  • Peacock: the effects editor
  • Raven: vector editor

You can have so much free fun with fonts.

So, move beyond the ho-hum, standard fonts offered by your word processing and presentation tools. makes me so much happier than Helvetica. You can download your favorites of the many fonts offered or quickly generate an image of your text, adjusting for size.

Fontspace offers its wide variety of font selections through a word cloud. Adjust the slider for size and choose font color. You may also want to try a few (some flashier) options:

  • (interactive text/banner/button generator)
  • 3D Text Maker (generates static or animated text)
  • Glowtxt (generate text with or without glow)
  • Signbot (create animated srolling LED signage)
  • Supalogo (use the pull-down menu to quickly generate text, choosing color, outline, size, transparency)
  • Textanim 2.0 (Animated text generator)

Support now exists for the color-challenged.

Adobe Kuler allows the amateur designer to explore and create color schemes, save and download themes, and browse thousands of themes from the Kuler community.

Color Scheme Designer allows users to navigate colors using a color wheel and to easily identify hex numbers.

Colour Lovers offers the opportunity to browse palettes, patterns, and individual colors, and to create and save your own palettes.

Upload a photo into Pictaculous and easily generate a palette to complement it. (This one also works on your smart phone!)

Designed for both the professional and the enthusiast, Color Explorer is a free online toolbox for designing and working with color palettes. It allows users to match colors, browse popular color libraries, export palettes into programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, analyze palettes from photographs and images, and store palettes.

And then there are those cool image generators. Lately I've been awfully fond of Photofunia to create attractive frames and galleries for my images.

Of course, don't forget those old favorites:

Big Huge Labs to create motivational and movie posters, trading cards, magazine covers, pop art, and so much more.

Image Chef for a catalog of hundreds of templates for both still and animated creations.

For more on playing with image and design tools, check out our new Image Guide.